Truce for now, the Christmas Police are Gone

In some ways it’s a relief that the holidays are over. I grew weary of the ceaseless Facebook posts reminding me that when people wished me seasons greeting and happy holidays it was an affront to Jesus. Yet another year of the war on Christmas. For eleven months I don’t have to listen to it.

It seems that any seasonal greeting has to include the name of Christ in it because Christmas is, after all, Christ’s birthday (it’s not, of course, Jesus was born in the spring, but that’s another topic). Anything less was an affront to God. No doubt you’re used to this; many of you probably insist on it. But it seems to me that while the Christian Right is complaining about the PC police, they’re turning into the Christmas police, determined to tell everyone in America—Christian, Jew, Muslim, or plain old freethinking couch potato on Sunday slob—how they have to celebrate their holidays.

And that’s about as unAmerican as it gets.

Now I grew up a Baptist Preacher’s Kid, so I was used to complaints about XMas (which I never understood because I thought that was putting the Cross in Christmas, even if it was a little lopsided). And nitpicking faith was a particular Baptist pasttime. If your sister wore her hair too long she was offending God, if you sneaked a peak at the Revised Standard you were recrucifying Christ, if you held hands with a girl you were committing adultery in your heart, and there wasn’t a well meaning sentence you could utter that couldn’t be challenged by some verse in the Bible.

But at Christmas, even Baptists would let stuff slide. Those feelings started at Thanksgiving, and ran until the last bowl game on New Year’s Day (that’s right, the bowls used to end with the Orange Bowl on New Year’s). That meant there was a whole season of God’s blessings to celebrate. So from my childhood on I remember people not just saying, “Merry Christmas,” but “Happy Holidays,” and “Seasons Greetings.”

And no one got mad. Not even Christians.

Image courtest of gatesfd.org

But then, a few years ago, someone on the Christian Right learned that the song “White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin to be a purely secular Christmas song. Uh oh. And then the Christian Right learned that stores would post ”Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” to be inclusive seasonal banners for all of their customers, including those who weren’t Christians.

That’s right, “Happy Holidays” and ”Seasons Greetings” arent intended to piss Christians off, they’re meant to include Christians and non-Christians. It’s called sharing. They’re meant in the spirit of Christmas, which is to share the love and joy of family (Thanksgiving), New Years and Jesus.

For some reason, however, the Christian Right wants to play the Grinch and police how the rest of us celebrate (even when some of the rest of us are Christian). For some reason, when a festive celebrater says to a Christian, “Happy Holidays,” they say, “You’re stealing Christ from Christmas.”

What a way to deflate the joy of the season. You’d think they could at least turn the other cheek.

Here’s the bottom line: There are two Christmas celebrations in America. The Christmas Christians celebrate, and the Federal holiday created by law. Sorry, Christian Right, that holiday has nothing to do with Jesus. That holiday is for all Americans, Christian or not, and it’s theirs to celebrate as they please. It would not just be wrong for you to ruin their Christmas to be a buzzkill by telling them what they can and cannot say to you in their attempts to share the joy of celebration.

It would be unAmerican. And it would be a sin.

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PS. After a years hiatus, I’m back. I took time off because of health problems and to finish my novel Cigerets, Guns & Beer on iBooks, Kindle and Nook. I won’t be posting as regularly because I’m also working on a new novel, Seeing Jesus, and posting a blog on Goodreads.

 

The subversion of Christmas

Why is it that no one wants to talk about the subversion of Christmas? We're so focused on the war that we forget the real danger is the Fifth Column, a subtle and insidious element at work to erode the foundations of our faith.

What is that Fifth Column? We are. Every time we drop a dime on a Christmas gift. Nor do I mean Santa Socks, Angry Bird Ring Toss, Star Wars 7 Pre-release Action Figures with Working Prototype Weapons, or the Ultimate iPad Christmas App and its Android knock-off. Or shopping at Wal-Mart where your dollars are recycled to China and Union-busting anti-labor initiatives instead of paying the workers a living wage.

I'm talking about buying things from Christian vendors as well, many of well-meaning, and others out to make nothing but a buck and all geared for the cash crop that is Fifth Column Christmas. I browsed the lists of recommended Christian gifts and most of them boiled down to Bibles (you can never have too many of those, even though you need only one and early Christians managed to get along without one at all), CDs, DVDs and Christian books, most of which have more to do with promoting agendas (even agendas I approve of) than Jesus.

Here are a couple of suggested Christian gifts:

Perhaps my favorite recommended gift would be the Christian Weekend Retreatfor $150.

It doesn't matter where you turn, Christmas is about spending money. As much and as often as possible. Christians can fool themselves into believing that a genuine leather Scofield Reference Bible with Concordance, Maps and authentic photographs of the crucifixion and resurrection is a Christian act and not an act of consumerism, or that a red and green sweater with wreaths and Christian cross patterns is a gift Jesus would give, but the Gospels suggest differently.

To Jesus, the act of giving requires a sacrifice. And it was something you do year-round. The Christmas holiday we celebrate was actually campaigned for by businesses to boost sales, much like Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentines Day and parent days. This may sound cynical, but you can't imagine any of those holidays without their connections to commerce. Each, in fact, has its own commercial symbol whether it be bunnies, cupids, turkeys or men in red suits.

This doesn't mean that charity isn't associated with Christmas. It's just that charity is an afterthought. For Jesus charity was first and foremost.

There are charitable gifts available. Oxfam allows you to give sustainable gifts to people in developing countries in the names of your friends and family members.

Redefining Christmas allows you to donate to friends' and family's favorite charities.

There's no guarantee the money will be spent completely as you want. For instance, giving to Samaritan's Purse for their sustainable as well as evangelical projects. But they also donate monies raised to undermining gay marriage rights. Would I give a present to my evangelical family through them even though I wouldn't even buy a chocolate peppermint Christmas shake from Chic-Fil-A? In a heartbeat. They still do good work. I can give an equal amount in support of same-sex marriage to another organization, and my evangelical family members would appreciate it far more than they would a gift through Oxfam.

Unfortunately, even special charitable gifts miss the point. Spending money you would have spent anyway requires no sacrifice, even if it is to a good cause.

I would like to be positive about this. The real truth, however, is that the Fifth Column forces of consumerism, sponsored in part by the Corporate Christian Complex, have too strong a grip. Our kids don't understand the gift of sacrifice. If they haven't received every disposable, breakable junk item on their list, they feel they were sacrificed to a higher principle. And too many friends do as well.

I would never tell you what you should do at Christmas. It is your holiday to celebrate as you choose. Even if you choose not to celebrate at all. But before we continue to escalate the war on Christmas, perhaps we should ask ourselves if the holiday has anything to do with Jesus at all.

So the real question, I suppose, is WWJD? And the surprising answer is probably that he wouldn't celebrate Christmas. His birthday, after all, was most likely in the spring and, as far as I can tell from the Gospels, he never celebrated when he was with us.

Uncle Santa needs you

The annual season for the war on Christmas opened this weekend. Technically, the skirmishes started a few weeks ago in Santa Monica and Alsip, Illinois. However, it's never official until Bill O'Reilly issues the declaration.

courtesy of examiner.com

The Christian Right believes they have an exclusive right to display their imagery during the upcoming season. After all, Christmas is a Christian holiday.

Unfortunately for Christians, other people celebrate their own holidays this time of year, and have been doing it far longer than Christians. The Christian Right forgets that their particular day is privileged only because the Federal Government, whom they believe conspires against them, recognizes only their celebration as the official holiday.

Christmas is the only religious holiday honored by the United States. Christians like to claim Thanksgiving as theirs too, but Thanksgiving is really a celebration of ecumenicalism, if it has any religious significance at all. Thanksgiving recognizes an event in which Native Americans, who revere the spirit world, came to the aid of Christians who might not have survived the winter in spite of our all-powerful God.

(I was always told that God sent the natives to help the Pilgrims, and I believe he did, but the irony of God sending pagans to rescue believers is lost on the story tellers.)

Of course, New Year's Day is the United States' official version of a purely Pagan holiday, but Christians and the failure of collective memory have managed to white wash any such religious connections today.

I was told when I was a child that Christmas was the umbrella for Chanuka. In fact, Christmas was supposed to be the time when people of all faiths set aside their differences to celebrate a day of peace. That day of peace is gone.

Christians should be grateful that theirs is the only religious celebration officially recognized by the United States. Instead, many of us seem to believe the very government they hate is punishing them by making room for all Americans to celebrate.


Speaking of the war on Christmas, I am finishing revisions this weekend on my Christmas (holiday) novella, The Worst Noel, a spin off of my novel Raising Hell, in which Pilgrim must save a town from its own outbreak of the Christmas wars. It will be on sale for Nook, Kindle and iBooks in time for the holidays (which you will find ironic given the topic of an upcoming post).

 

Keep the Chrazies out of Christmas

‘Tis no longer the season to be jolly, but to be bitter and derisive. Too many people have a stake in Christmas and that stake has nothing to do with peace on earth and goodwill toward others.1 Christmas has become a platform for political platitudes and posturing. To listen to the religious right and their secular opponents, the fate of America’s soul, and every Christian or free thinker’s soul, depends on the outcome of the war.
Two recent examples:
A post office manager raised the ire of Fox news when he allegedly evicted Christmas carolers from his branch. I say allegedly, not because they were asked to leave, but because differing accounts depict him as irate or conciliatory. He claims he simply asked them to move to the sidewalk outside; according to Fox News, he was irate.
Of course, if you managed a post office and had to answer to bureaucratic supervisors who held you responsible for running things smoothly and avoiding customer complaints, you might be irate if a group of costumed carolers started singing during the rush at Christmas without even asking your permission. To me, their would be no “might” about it. I would be pissed.
Nor does this excuse the carolers for overlooking the need to ask for permission. I understand the philosophy that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, but if you practice that philosophy you should consider yourself lucky you don’t end up in jail. To protest their removal is disingenuous, if not dishonest. So I side with the post office manager on this one.
We would expect people to get upset if pro-life or pro-choice protestors tied up business in the post office. Or girl scouts selling cookies when we’re just trying to get to the counter. Or JW’s started passing out Watchtowers. Or even if a guitar player set up shop and let loose a riff from Jimi Hendrix on his Stratocaster.
In another culture clash, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), representing atheists in Pittman, New Jersey, protested the constitutionality of a sign “Keep Christ in Christmas” hung by the local Knights of Columbus. Maybe, they should have kept their mouths shut because the sign maker is now selling the sign as a bumper sticker at cost, so it should be popping up all over the country.
The constitutionality question borders on the placement of the flag. The mayor and town council claim that one side of the sign is anchored on private property and can only be removed by zoning restrictions. The FFRF says the other side is on public property and therefore impermissible.
My feeling is that members of the FFRF should just post their own banner, “Keep Christ out of Christmas,” and attach one side to their own private property. Then they could listen to the Christians howl.
To both the carolers and the FFRF, I say, get over it. We’re all Americans and we’re allowed to celebrate holidays as we choose. We’re also allowed to piss and moan about people we disagree with. In public. What we have is not a war on Christmas, but a war of words.
Speaking of wars of words, President Obama has evidently declared a war on faith itself. I didn’t know that, but Texas Governor Rick Perry says it’s true. According to the esteemed Texas Governor, Obama was responsible for banning prayer in schools, even though the Supreme Court ruled on the issue when Obama was in grade school. (Perry also thinks the Supreme Court is unelected and unaccountable and wants to stop this practice and restore the original intent of the Constitution.) Perry also believes Obama initiated “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and insists on stopping foreign aid to countries with policies of suppressing homosexuals.
Let’s be honest. Faith can not be reduced to gay rights, or even abortion. Not even the Christian faith. Even if we consider abortion to be murder, it still doesn’t make it into the top five commandments. In the Bowl Championship Series of commandments, it would never reach the title game. Being gay, or even marrying someone of the same sex doesn’t even rank until lying under oath or adultery become involved.
Nor can Christmas be reduced to the expression of personal faith or political opinion. Reggie McNeal, in his book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church considers the modern church to be part “civil religion and in part a club where religious people can hang out with other people whose politics, worldview and lifestyle match theirs.”
Christians on both sides of the political spectrum would smugly smile on reading this and know, in their hearts, it applies to those “other Christians.” It applies to all Christians, including me. But, at Christmas, we need to recognize that the holiday Christmas no longer belongs to Christians.
Christmas has become a social festival to be enjoyed by all. We are supposed to celebrate the Joy of God in the world even if we don’t believe in him. Peace on earth, good will toward everyone. If Christmas isn’t for everyone, even those who choose to celebrate differently or not at all, then we should remove it as a Federal and national holiday.
But the Christian Right would never accept that. They want us all to celebrate Christmas on their own terms. In the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, every one! As long as we celebrate the way Jesus intended.” Bah, humbug, indeed.


1 Oops, I already did it (to twist the words of that great philosopher Britney Spears). I misquoted the Bible. It should be “good will toward men.” If God wanted good will toward women, he would have said it that way.2back

2Who, to be honest was merely parroting the words of song writers Max Martin and Rami. But what a great excuse to chain a footnote off a footnote. If it seems as though I’m treating the war on Christmas with too much levity, I would say that, to the contrary, levity is all the subject deserves.back

The real war on Christmas

Thanksgiving ended Thursday night, and at midnight the nation launched the official celebration of Jesus’ birthday with the most holy of holy events: Black Friday. That’s right, before the dinner table is cleared of the remaining leftovers, families began the Christmas holidays with their annual pilgrimage to the gilded cathedrals and the world’s largest houses of worship.I mean the malls, of course. Not to mention Walmart, K-Mart and Target who have announced the newest dispensation to worshippers in the form of layaway. You no longer have to use credit to buy things for Christmas. On the other hand, what do you think all those businesses expect to happen on Christmas eve when people discover they still can’t afford to remove those items from layaway in time for Christmas?Credit cards out, layaway redeemed.What better way to end a day devoted to thanking God for his blessings than by gorging on consumer crap? What better way to set aside a day to think about God and the gift of his son than by wading through seas of shoppers in aisle after aisle crammed with stuff we will most likely shelve or regift—or even toss—before the next Thanksgiving holiday?Thanksgiving also marks the beginning of the season of declaring yet another war on Christmas. The Christian right will begin to lament the fact that

  • We can’t make Arab, Hindu, Native American, Asian Black and Hispanic children celebrate the way Protestants do, and, at the same time
  • We can’t forbid children from other cultures exposing our own kids to their beliefs.

According to the Christmas warriors, even the phrases “Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” are subliminal secular propaganda designed to rob us of our faith. The rationale being, I assume, that true faith is far too fragile to risk exposure to the devil’s distractions.The real war on Christmas begins on Black Friday. At least, Black Friday may well be the equivalent of the season’s Normandy invasion. I can think of nothing so likely to tempt us away from a Gospel of salvation, service and love than the false gospels of greed and consumption.I spotted a book, “Christmas is Not Your Birthday” by Mike Slaughter advertised in the latest issue of Sojourners. The book challenges Christians to remember that we should recall that Christmas is not about going deeper into financial debt, but recalling that Jesus wrote all of our debts off the books. It’s hard to take a stand against rampant consumerism, because the main target in the war is our children. It’s tough to tell children that Christmas is about something greater than toys, because every television show, every Christmas special and every TV ad says, “Christmas means more stuff.” The Christmas classic Polar Express is little more than an exposition of the glory of toys.Nor is it enough to buy one or two presents, and help our children make presents or work hard to earn money to buy a few. As soon as they turn on the TV or rush over to see their friends, they will feel cheated and deprived. Stressing the spirituality of Christmas makes them feel robbed of something greater, something far more tangible (something which, in reality, is valueless).We can lay the blame directly at the feet of the culture warriors, who try to distract us from the real war on Christmas with accusations against a secular society, a society that cannot be expected to preserve Christian, Jewish, Amish, Mormon, Adventist, Moslem or Buddhist values except as cultural traditions which make our society richer as a whole.We can safely lay the blame at culture warriors, because they chose to climb into bed with the corporate interests who reap massive profits off of conspicuous Christmas overconsumption. Anyone contributing to a campaign to stop the wars on Christmas is building the political war chest of the very interests who undermine everything truly Christian in our society.I’ve recently labelled this the Corporate Christian Complex, but that’s another post altogether. I understand that the gift giving tradition at Christmas can be justified (very thinly) by the story of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew. The Magi bought gifts to Christ on his birthday. But if we are to truly honor that scripture, shouldn’t we be giving gifts to Jesus by feeding and clothing those in need as he would have done? Jesus got the gifts, not his parents and siblings.1We should also remember that Jesus rarely became angry, except when commercial interests tried to profit off worship at the temple. I can think of no greater analogy to the merchants in the temple than the merchants who steal the sacredness of Christmas from our children. I don’t mean the shopkeepers who want to make children happy in order to feed their families. I mean the corporate, media and advertising executives who place children in the front line of battle.We can’t fix our family Christmas overnight any more than we can fix our economy. I do think we can start to make some changes. We can still give gifts, but limit the number of gifts. We might say one per family member. Period. We could insist that before they expect a present from Uncle Phillip and Aunt Carol the nieces and nephews should find or make a present for them. We can explain to our children that they may get only six gifts, unlike their friends, but other children get none.Limit stocking stuffer items to fruit and books (real books, not comic books). Trade one or two presents for events (or tickets to those events) our children enjoy so that they can appreciate an experience and not the disposable plastic.We could ask the children to select a gift for Blue or Brown Santa. We could ask our children to pick one of their unopened gifts to take with them to church to give to needier family members. We could encourage children to perform other family members’ household chores as Christmas gifts.Instead of a Christmas eve service, why not sponsor a soup line for the poor? After the soup line closes we could invite the servers and those we served to a service. We could end the service by washing feet instead of lighting candles. Church families could agree to ceilings on their Christmas budgets, and make sure to involve their children in the decision. Families with more to give could have their children bring an envelope to the Christmas service containing a check to help families too poor to reach those ceilings.If the Corporate Christian Complex intends to declare war on Christmas through our children, then we need to fight back by teaching our children that they should be giving at Christmas and not drowning in wrapping paper. One of the ways the can give is by expecting less.